|Chief minister Mamata Banerjee paints after a brief speech at the inauguration of the North Bengal festival at Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri on Monday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Siliguri, Jan. 28: Mamata Banerjee did a Keynes today, taking care to explain the multiplier effects of all the festivals that the government is organising across the state.
“So many people come to the festivals to sell their products. People come here and buy products. The economy grows in this manner,” said the chief minister, willy-nilly echoing what economist John Maynard Keynes had written in The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.
The chief minister was speaking at the inauguration of the seven-day North Bengal Festival, 2013, at Siliguri’s Kanchenjunga Stadium. The north Bengal development department is the main sponsor of the show.
In General Theory, Keynes had showed that government spending — even digging holes and filling them in —would stimulate the economy as the beneficiaries of government spending would collectively push up consumption.
His ideas heavily influenced the series of economic programmes — known as New Deal in economic literatures — in the US between 1933 and 1936 to fight the fallout of the Great Depression.
Not Keynes but comrades and the Congress appeared to be on the mind of Mamata when she propounded her general theory of festivals.
“Utsab korbo na to ki shraddha korbo? Bhagar toiri korbo? (Should we observe shradh ceremony instead of festivals? Should we create dumping grounds?),” Mamata asked in what was a direct reply to questions by Opposition parties on the need for government-sponsored festivals at a time the state is reeling under a debt burden of over Rs 2.3 lakh crore.
Mamata — who has often said in the past that she was not an economist — stressed that festivals would kick in economic gains. “Festival is also an industry. A festival is where everyone comes together and development takes place,” the chief minister said.
The new government has laid emphasis on organising festivals across the state since coming to power. Pragati Utsab in Calcutta to showcase the government’s achievements, Digha Beach Festival to highlight tourism potential and Jungle Mahal Utsab for promoting sports and cultural activities… the list goes on.
The second edition of the North Bengal festival is being held simultaneously in other towns like Balurghat, Cooch Behar, Raigunj, Malda and Jalpaiguri. Mamata will inaugurate the Darjeeling leg of the event in the hills tomorrow.
The Telegraph had reported in November that the outgo on festivals — spent from the government’s non-plan account — till then had cost the state exchequer in excess of Rs 50 crore. Sources in the finance department said that by the end of this financial year, the total bill for festivals would cross Rs 100 crore, as more festivals — like Mati Utsab — are pending.
Although Mamata claimed today that the festivals would result in economic gains, the state is yet to witness any perceptible change in the economic environment.
Bengal Leads 2013, the government show to attract investment in Bengal, was a damp squib.
“If the festivals are resulting in economic gains, that should attract investors who would come to tap the potential of Bengal. In reality, we are witnessing the opposite as even existing players are weary of pumping more money into their projects,” said a senior state government official.
Today’s speech was not the first time that Mamata had pitched hard for art and culture (shilpa) to fill the void of large-scale industry.
On November 24, while inaugurating the annual state handicrafts expo in Calcutta, Mamata had blurred the lines between industry and art with the Bengali equivalent shilpa that denotes both.
“Big ports, factories, electronics parks, IT are needed. But iron and cement are not the only industries. Small is beautiful. This is the real industry…. Industrialists should sponsor the artisans and see how much they earn. They can buy the products cheap here and sell at a premium in the world market,” Mamata had said.